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Cultural Competence and Attorneys

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Cultural Competence and Attorneys

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The United States possesses an incredible melting pot of cultures. Spend a few hours in a major airport, as I did today, and you’ll see an interesting variety of dress and behavior.

Those of us who function within the medical legal arena need to have cultural competence. Within the healthcare framework, healthcare providers are expected to understand and effectively respond to the cultural and language needs of the patient. This requires us to value diversity, identify and overcome our biases, manage the dynamics of differences, and adapt to the diversity and cultural contexts of individuals (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Attorneys have the same requirements.

An attorney may represent a client from a radically different culture. Client behavior must be viewed within the context of that culture:

Is the client extremely deferential to the attorney and staff and reluctant to ask questions? Demanding and asking for updated information on an ongoing basis? Affected by a language barrier?

What effort do you make to get to know the patient and his or her culture? Do you have bilingual staff? Do you know how to obtain a translator? What signals do you send to clients that you are interested in learning about their culture? Do you know how the lawsuit has affected the client’s role as parent, spouse, or employee? Do you understand the values of the client? Has a physician or nurse defendant suffered a diminished cultural status as a result of becoming a defendant? How have the immigrant’s goals been affected by an inability to work? Does an injured plaintiff have beliefs about what kind of healthcare is likely to restore him to health? For example, I recall a Vietnamese client who taped coins to his back to reduce back pain.

What information about the client’s cultural background is appropriate to share with a jury? How will the jury view this information? How can the behavior of the client be made understandable to the jury so they possess culture competence?

Send us a comment. What challenges have you experienced in representing a client from another culture, and how did you overcome them?

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